According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, more than 62,000 first-time Tennessee undergraduates sought four-year degrees or certificates in 2016. Of these, 16,700 learners enrolled exclusively in distance education courses, equaling 5.4 percent of all students. That number rose to 55,100, or 17.7 percent, when including students enrolled in both online and on-campus courses. In response to this growing popularity, many colleges and universities are expanding their blended and online learning options. But with so many opportunities available now and in the future, how do students find the best one for them? Read on to learn the ins and outs of online colleges and universities in Tennessee.
Several key variables impact your college decision, including your academic and professional goals, budget and educational background. Start by asking some questions; do you intend to enroll as a full- or part-time student? At the colleges that stand out, how many students go on to obtain jobs or pursue graduate or doctoral degrees? Consider the average number of students taking courses, is the quality of a school's faculty, and institutional accreditation important? When searching for the best four-year undergraduate programs in Tennessee, we consider all these variables and more to create a list of the online colleges we believe provide the best combination of online student success and quality learning environment. Take a look below:
The Tennessee Regents Online Campus Collaborative (ROCC) makes up one of the most comprehensive online state college and university degree platforms in the nation. ROCC's Tennessee eCampus Initiative allows prospective students to explore more than 500 online degrees and certificates and over 400 online courses offered at colleges and universities throughout the state.
Transferring academic credits earned elsewhere, or receiving credit for the knowledge or experience gained outside a formal educational program, proves invaluable for students. Tennessee Transfer programs guarantee that academic credits earned at a community college for two-year associate degrees will transfer to a four-year bachelor's degrees at any public university and many private universities statewide.
Some colleges in Tennessee also grant credit for demonstrated prior learning. Tennessee State University allows students to earn college credit for prior knowledge in two ways: a credit by exam and a portfolio assessment. Exams can be standard via the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and Defense Activities for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES), or administered by specific departments to gauge knowledge in a certain area. The second way is by portfolio assessment, which individual colleges and universities can provide more detail on.
Earning a college degree is an important first step toward better career prospects and enhanced earning power. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the table below shows a strong correlation between higher education and larger salaries among all Tennessee workers, regardless of industry or profession.
Mean Annual Salary for All Occupations in Tennessee, by Minimum Degree Requirement:
Source: BLS, 2017
While trade and commerce play an important part in Tennessee's economy, the state also has a burgeoning tourism industry. In response, local colleges are providing degree-earning opportunities in hospitality and tourism-related industries.
In addition to tourism, Tennessee’s thriving tech culture has made it a fertile ground for start-ups. Colleges in Tennessee are even teaming up with corporations to provide students career opportunities in technology and engineering right out of college.
When researching online colleges in Tennessee, understanding accreditation is critical. Not only does it tell employers that you have a quality degree from a reputable institution, but it’s a key step to securing federal financial aid. Here are the two types of accreditation you need to look for when researching online colleges in Tennessee.
Regional accreditation is the most important stamp of approval for U.S. colleges and universities. All state colleges and universities in Tennessee hold regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools does similarly for independent, non-public career schools, colleges and organizations in both the U.S. and abroad. This assures students of the school's high quality, as the institution voluntarily and successfully passed an independent, peer-review process to earn accreditation.
Some schools or programs within colleges and universities may seek out and earn specialized accreditation. This signifies quality and consistency in education in a certain subject area. Many business schools look to earn accreditation from the Association for the Advancement of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), and psychology programs may seek accreditation from the American Psychological Association (APA).
Tuition may be on the rise—not only in Tennessee but nationwide—but a college degree remains one of the best ways to earn a stronger salary. Let’s see how Tennessee tuition stacks up against the national average.
In-State Tuition, Public Colleges & Universities: $8,932
Change from 2015 $437
In-State Tuition, Private Colleges & Universities: $15,359
Change from 2015 $1,160
Source: National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
Tennessee took bold action to make higher education more accessible in May 2017 when the state expanded the Tennessee Promise program to pay tuition costs for all adults who enroll in an in-state community college. The program initially covered community college tuition costs for recent high school graduates. For eligibility, students need to reside in state for a period of one year prior to enrollment, maintain a 2.0 GPA, enroll in courses with sufficient credits for part-time status and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Students from outside Tennessee may consider relocating to attend school and pay in-state tuition rates. The University of Tennessee System maintains the following student residency regulations:
Tennessee's per-credit and overall tuition costs for online undergraduate courses and degrees differ between schools, but often remain more affordable than in many other regions. In-state students enrolled in the University of Tennessee's online undergraduate program paid $12,500, while tuition costs for out-of-state learners totaled $14,300. Here are a few cost-per-credit-hour rates for undergraduate tuition at a variety of online colleges in Tennessee and nearby states:
Keep in mind that tuition rates are only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to understanding the full cost of an online education. Fees and additional costs vary for online students between every college and university across Tennessee—check with the Admissions Offices at each school to learn about the full price of attendance.
Many students who pursue a bachelor's degree online require financial assistance to pay for their education. Fortunately, Tennessee learners enjoy a variety of federal, state and local government funding opportunities.
The amount of money awarded by Tennessee Promise scholarships varies. These provide students a "last-dollar scholarship," which means the amount covers tuition and fees not addressed by federal Pell grants, HOPE scholarships or state student assistance funds. Students may use the scholarship at any of the Tennessee's 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology or other eligible institution offering associate-level degrees.
Adult education plays a key role in Tennessee labor and workforce development, often helping non-traditional learners get on the path to earning a college degree to advance their career prospects. Here are some programs that aspiring college students in Tennessee can take advantage of to jumpstart their college prospects:
High School Equivalency - According to the U.S. Census Bureau 12 percent of Tennessee's adult population had not graduated high school or earned a GED. These programs make it easy for adult learners to earn high school equivalency certificate.
English Language Courses - English proficiency also plays a significant role in unemployment rates in Tennessee-less than half of all non-English speakers in Tennessee hold only a high school credential, making it more difficult to find gainful employment.
Many adult learners enroll in online programs to build these skills and later attend college—some university programs in Tennessee even allow adult education credits to count towards your college degree. The Tennessee Transfer Pathway program specifically provides information for transfer students.